some thoughts on the romance in Buffy

I never watched Buffy as a teenager, but I’ve spent the past couple of weeks righting that wrong. There may be an upcoming post on the old Angel v Spike issue, but all you need to know for now is: Spike. Always.

There are some very distinct romances throughout the show, and they work in really different ways. So here, briefly, are some observations:

1. The classic star-crossed lovers trope really does work. I went into the show pretty ready not to care about Angel one way or the other, because what is he but your broody alpha hero? But the angsty soulmate love ended up getting to me.

2. The show does something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, and which I’ll write a post on soon. It turns Buffy’s first “I love you” into an unpleasant thing. This is amazing if you can pull it off.

3. Riley is the most boring love interest of all time. When he first appeared I actually thought he would be fantastic, because he seemed to exist in a grown up, academic world that, for all her superpowers, Buffy had no entry into. This would have challenged her in a whole new way and contrasted the Angel romance, which nothing at that stage could live up to. When it turned out that Riley was just another undercover demon killer he immediately became same-old (or rather, he became always just-less than Angel).

4. As soon as the writers realised there was no fizz they used it to their advantage. Riley’s disproportionate feelings for Buffy started turning him into a psychopath. That was cool.

5. Second-string males always become the more compelling love interest; Pacey, Barney, Chuck Bass, Damon Salvatore… and Spike.

6. As difficult as it is on my romance sensibilities, I love the way that Joss Whedon’s romances refuse to resolve themselves into any one thing. This is particularly true of the Buffy/Spike romance. At times it’s impossible to even say whether they like each other or not, much less whether they’re morally black or white.

7. There’s so, so much to say about Spike as a romantic hero.

8. There’s was an amazing moment in a recent Vampire Diaries episode. Caroline, the ditzy blonde who was turned into a vampire and proceeded to become very cool, has just semi-made-up with her dad. She says to him, “I’m going to be okay, Dad.” and he says back, “Sweetheart, you’re a vampire. You’re never going to be okay again.” (That’s all paraphrased, but is true enough to the text.) Joss Whedon de-romanticises vampires in the same way through romance. As intense and delicious as these romances are, they simply do not have good endings in them. Because being a vampire is not okay.

I’m thinking I’ll look into some of the relationships in more depth and figure out on a writing level what’s going on – why some of them are working despite myself, why others couldn’t work to save themselves and, yes, why Spike is so amazing.

Until then, happy holidays!

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